Managing Employee Burnout

Now that hybrid is becoming the dominant model, staff are facing a different kind of burnout. How do managers prevent burnout, and support their employees when it happens?

The WHO describes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”. They say, “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed". It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Growing mental distance from an employee’s job, or negative or cynical feelings towards the job.
  • Reduced professional efficiency or productivity.”

Burnout can be attributed to many different things - juggling work and home life during the drawn-out weirdness of a pandemic, long hours and heavy workloads. Just when we think we’re out of the woods, new threats to our stability and wellbeing come out of the woodwork - over-consumption of news amid the threat of another world war, inflation, an energy crisis. The freedom and flexibility provided by remote working may help to alleviate certain stresses, but the now-dominant hybrid model seems to be generating different stresses of its own. So how do managers support their staff if burnout finally catches up with them?

Money Matters

What employees are looking for in terms of job satisfaction has changed. They are searching for passion and purpose as opposed to a hefty paycheck. Sociologist Erin Cech of the University of Michigan says, “There seems to be this sentiment that, ‘security be damned, we’re trying to find meaning’.” However, she also notes “that the people who can even entertain the idea of taking such risks typically already enjoy the greatest economic, racial and gender privileges”.

Data collated from the Gallup World Poll found that the ideal income point for individuals is $95,000 for life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being. When people earned more than $105,000, their happiness levels decreased. The 2019 Employer’s Guide to Financial Wellness by Salary Finance found that 36% of employees are worried about money, the consequences of which are a lost salary cost of between 9-13%. So while money can’t buy happiness, not being worried about it is one of the keys to avoiding burnout. 

There is also a reverse effect of burnout on your finances. An article in the Wall Street Journal referenced Meghan O'Dea, who spoke about the effect burnout was having on her financially. “Any of these moments when I’ve flirted with burnout or pushed through burnout, that is when I’m spending a ton of money on eating out,” she says. “I don’t have energy to cook for myself, even though cooking is something I enjoy,” she said. 

One of the ways managers can bolster the financial health of employees is to introduce a financial wellness program into your workplace. Financial wellness experts Enrich have found that being supported in terms of a financial plan reduces stress by an average of 23%. Sounds like money well spent. 

Give employees what they need

Whether this is the correct tech setup to allow staff to effectively connect to the wider team, the necessary skills and know-how to perform their jobs well, or a pat on the back for a job well done, there’s a vast landscape of needs to meet when it comes to happy staff. 

Firstly, managers and leaders need to be more perceptive. If a staff member is showing signs of burnout, but maybe they’re a passive communicator who struggles to express themselves, it’s up to managers to pick up on this and offer support. This support needs to be in the form of real relief, not placebos - another yoga class won’t fix most problems relating to burnout. If staff stay they need more time off, give it to them. If they’re finding a new workflow challenging, see if there are ways that it can be streamlined. It’s likely that hybrid will take some getting used to, so managers should put structures in place where team members can offer feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and implement changes accordingly. 

Jobs site Indeed sponsored research in conjunction with the Harvard Business Review. Out of the 1,073 business leaders surveyed, 96% say that a happier workplace makes it easier to retain talent. And yet, only a third of leaders surveyed say they’ve made well-being a top priority - and just 19% have a well-being strategy in place. Alex Clemente from Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, says that this is because:

  • Employee well-being and happiness initiatives are still relatively new.
  • Managers aren’t always trained to deal with this, focusing instead on productivity and profit.
  • Many business leaders believe happiness is the employee’s responsibility. 

Giving employees what they need to be happy not only creates a more positive workplace that is more likely to attract and retain talent, but also boosts a company’s bottom line by maintaining productivity. 

Review Company Culture

Company culture can often be the birthplace of burnout. How can managers and leaders turn the tide of burnout if stress and anxiety is part of the organisation’s DNA? If burnout seems to be endemic in your organisation, maybe it’s time to review the company culture. LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2022 Report says that company’s wanting to attract and retain talent will need to put their employees first and ensure they feel cared for and supported. 63% of those surveyed said that work/life balance was their main priority when job hunting. Claude Silver from VaynerMedia says, “We are waking up to a collective ‘aha moment’. We have been all about work-life balance. This is backward. It should be life-work balance.”

Ideally, an organisation should aim to be a place that prevents burnout rather than cures it. If you’re a new company or business, you have the opportunity to instil policies that actively prevent burnout from the very beginning. LinkedIn’s video on company culture in the current climate gives an overview of how culture in the workplace has shifted over time. Josh Bersin, a HR professional, says, “If staff are not well trained and engaged you’ll eventually have problems with turnover, customer service, and a lack of willingness to adapt to business change. And right now, change is the biggest thing companies are dealing with.”

Look at the ways your company could incorporate more flexibility into its culture. Explore a four day work week, something which 53% of employees were interested in, according to an Owl Labs survey. 84% of respondents said they would be interested in flexible policies that will not require them to be in the office at specific times. The same amount reported interest in working from anywhere. Make no mistake, the new culture is flex-culture.